Nellie Bly on the Wing

Nellie Bly

The New York World/November 4, 1888

Some Things She Saw, Heard And Experienced While Travelling.

Saidee Polk Fall’s Happy Life at the Famous Polk Homestead—A Bit of Amelia River’s Early History—Poet Riley’s Wisdom—Experience with a Southern Quarantine Officer—An Indignant Traveler.

Miss Saidee Polk Fall is the belle of Nashville, Tenn. Her mother was adopted and educated by Mrs. James Knox Polk, whose niece she is. After the death of President Polk Mrs. Fall, then a little black-eyed girl, was the only companion the sorrowing widow had to share her lonely home. Mrs. Fall married, but still made her home with Mrs. Polk. Her only child, Saidee, is the joy and pride of the household, and Mrs. Polk loves to hear her girlish chatter about the house and takes delight in having her young visitors made welcome.

Saidee Fall, who was named in honor of her grand aunt, Sarah Polk, completed her education at Mrs. Reed’s school in New York. Afterwards her mother sent her for a short trip through Europe, and she returned to take her place in society as the belle of Nashville. The fame of her illustrious grand aunt has made all social circles cordially open their doors to her. Before the marriage of Grover Cleveland she and her mother were the guests of Miss Cleveland at the White House.

Miss Fall is above the medium height, and dresses in perfect taste. Her waist would break a New York girl’s heart, it is so wide. Of course, it is very noticeable in these days of carving waists, and would cause many heads to turn for a second look, but after a first glance of surprise one rather admires it. Miss Fall’s face is not quite oval, and nature, aided by a Southern climate, has tinted it most beautifully. The nose is delicate and straight, and the soft red lips curve with a sweet pride as if the owner knew her worth. The eyes are black and deep, and in repose gaze with a dreamy look as if they could tales unfold. The arched eyebrows match the eyes in color, but are unusually heavy. Over the fair, smooth brow and curling round the pink-tipped ears falls her soft, reddish-golden hair. Add to this a graceful case of manner and dresses that any stylish New York girl would be proud of, and you have Miss Saidee Polk Fall.

Miss Fall’s apartments are in the second story of the Polk mansion. She has her own parlor filled with all the little dainties that young girls love. She has her dog-cart and horse, which she drives every day, and a little black-and-tan that likes to lie on the rag rug in the parlor. Miss Fall is quite a musician and plays the piano, guitar and banjo with skill. Besides this she has a clear soprano voice. This is her third year in society. Miss Saidee is a very happy girl. She is the idolized child of her parents, the pride of her grandaunt and the belle of Nashville.

What girl would ask more?

Amelia Rives’s Romance.

In my travels through Virginia I met a gentleman who has been the life-long friend of Amelia Rives-Chandler. He told me a bit of her life, which is very interesting. Mr. Rives is a civil engineer for the Panama Canal, and Amelia is the pride of the family. They all bowed to her superior genius and she “ruled the roost” at home. In some of her travels Amelia Rives saw John McCullough and became possessed of a passionate admiration for him. She managed to be in several towns where he played and at last was rewarded by making his acquaintance. It is said that a closer acquaintance fanned her admiration into a warmer regard, and that at last John McCullough went to her Virginia homestead to spend his vacation.

“If you have read the book which made her known to the public,” said my fellow-traveler, “you can judge what a happy time they had. He undoubtedly admired her and she more than admired him. While he was there she painted a life-size portrait of him, which is very artistic. Just after this he became insane, and the shock to Amelia’s peculiar temperament was very severe. She became more eccentric than ever, and after his death she decorated the bedstead in which he had slept with a full assortment of angels. They said then that she cherished everything that he had used, even a half-smoked cigar, and locked herself for hours in the room with his portrait. Then she wrote a little play entitled ‘Mad as a March Hare,’ and played the leading role in it herself. She acted in Richmond, and donated the proceeds to a charity fund.

“She is so peculiar,” he continued, “that she never leaves many friends behind her. She trusts to her beauty and genius to save her from any consequence of her rudeness. She make a rule never to go anywhere until everybody else has arrived. Then she makes such dramatic entrance that I have seen a perfect silence fall on three hundred people as they turned to watch her. In the South she is considered very beautiful. The only objection anyone finds is that she is too ‘dumpy.’ She is extremely fair, even to pallor, and her hair is of a pale gold hue. Her lips are very full and so blood-red that envious ones have accused her of painting them. Her eyes are peculiar. They are blue, but the iris is so large that it almost covers the pupil, leaving but a tiny blue ring to be seen. We Southerners are very proud of her.”

Poet Riley’s Key to Success.

“Do you want to succeed in life?” asked James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet, whose book of poems has just been most flatteringly received by the English public and press.

“I do,” I replied, with an earnestness that might have been felt a block.

“Then dress well,” he said. “The secret to success is a good personal appearance. Why, if I struck a town with only 50 cents in my pocket the first thing I’d do would be to go a barber shop. A barber shop is the intelligence office and newspaper of every town. So you see my first move would be to go there. I’d have a shave and give the barber my 50 cents, and when he offered me back the change I’d tell him with a knightly wave of my hand, “It’s all right.” He would tell everybody else, and it would help me to get an opening somewhere. But about dress. Now, wouldn’t you rather give a nickel to a beggar who was brushed and had a clean face than to one who was not? Anyone would. When one goes to a hotel doesn’t the clerk take an inventory of his guest before he gives a room and doesn’t the room always match the appearance? If I want to sell some verses the editor glances at me. If my clothes are shabby he thinks, ‘oh, he’s in hard luck and will be satisfied with any price.’ If my appearance is that of prosperity he’ll be afraid to offer me a small price, or if not afraid at least ashamed. A woman should be even more particular. Her gowns give her her place more than a man’s coat. Men always look at the women’s dress and in almost every instance judge accordingly. To be successful one must look successful. Good clothing makes everything easier. Take my advice if you wish to succeed—never look shabby.”

Wanted—A Wife

Who wants a husband?

I have just received a letter from a man in Nova Scotia who is anxious to test matrimony. Somehow I like the ring of sincerity in his letter so well that I wish my acquaintance among women was larger, that I might speak a good word for him. If any girl feels a responsive thrill while reading this and thinks she answers the requirements, I shall be pleased to hear from her and to do what I can in helping two people towards the one glorious end—matrimony. This is the letter:

Miss Bly: I am much interested in the stories you have given the public, which I have seen referred to in our provincial papers. I write to ask the favor of being referred to some worthy young woman whom I might find eligible and available for a life partner.

I am a farmer in a small way, living in a thinly settled neighborhood on the shores of Annapolis Basin. I am now building a house on my own farm and in selecting a mistress for it nothing would suit me better than to bring some good girl, who might make an efficient help-meet, from the struggle with poverty and temptation of city life to the homely plenty of country life. Doubtless you could point out to me some such person as I desire, possessing good character, good health, industry, truthfulness, natural refinement of feeling, good judgment and a fair share of those graces of heart, mind and person that constitute the glory and value of the sex.

She should not be above the average height, of the vital or sanguine or vital-motive temperament, and not very much past twenty years of age. Something under twenty would be just as well. If you could place me in communication with a person of this description, who seemed to you likely to possess the ordinary good qualities I have mentioned, you would bestow a grateful favor on myself, and possibly on another.

I am a bachelor, aged thirty-five years, 5 feet 8 inches in height, weight 142 pounds; am light complexioned; light-brown hair, somewhat bald at the crown: am not bad looking, have good health and constitution, have a good character, have always been a total abstainer from intoxicants, tobacco, etc.; have no bad habits, strongly inclined to be domestic. I belong to a respectable family and live southern shores of Annapolis Basin, a most beautiful spot. Its picturesque scenery and fine climate are making it a favorite summer resort for American tourists. Our Summers are cool, Autumn very fine, Winters moderate. Very little cold weather, but more prolonged than in New York, and backward Springs.

What I ask is that you would kindly give me the address of some worthy young woman who is likely to be unengaged and who appears to you to possess the qualifications I have enumerated. I care not how poor, what her circumstances, percentage or race is—if white—provided she is good and healthy, and calculated for a suitable helpmeet for a poor man. Or you might merely hand this letter to such a one, who could consider it as addressed to herself and write a reply. A correspondence could thus be opened, photographs exchanged, and New York is not so far from here but that a meeting might be arranged before long. Then, if we were mutually satisfied I could ensure the companionship I so need, and in return supply a poor girl with a good home.

If she could not afford to carry on such a correspondence I would supply her with the means. Pardon my trespassing on your valuable time, but I doubt not that you feel sufficient interest in the poor in whose behalf your pen has often been employed to be willing thus to help one poor girl to find a better home, and also ready to aid a lonely man to find a congenial companion.

Should anyone desire references to ensure my good character and standing I can easily supply them from clergymen and other prominent citizens here, but I know no one in New York. I am very truly yours, –.

Passing The Quarantine

“It’s too mean for anything!” I heard a girl half sob, and I looked to see what was wrong. She was one of a party of six—two men and four girls—who had started from Nashville at the same time with myself for Chattanooga, Tenn. The party had been very lively, and this dark eyed Southern girl who was now on the verge of tears had been the jolliest of the crowd. A soldierly looking man in a close-fitting dark blue suit, with cap to match, stood looking first at her and then at a small book he held in a vexed but determined manner.

“I don’t see why anything won’t do as well,” she said as her cheeks grow redder. The young men did their best to hide their amusement, but the soldierly looking man was unrelenting.

“I will go to the office and sign to-morrow,” she pleaded; but the man shook his head. “Well, I don’t see how it makes any differences whether I put sixteen or thirty-six,” she said at last. The officer turned the book upside down and read something from it to the crowd; the young men burst into hearty laughter, and the poor girl, as she wrote something in the book, her eyes filling with tears, said:

“Chattanooga is a mean old town and I will never here again—so, now.”

I watched him have a turn with each of the other girls, which always ended in the girl’s defeat, and I was burning with curiosity to know what caused so many tears among the girls and so much laughter among the men. I had not long to wait, for finishing with the part of six the man came to me.

“I am the Quarantine Inspector,” he said, slightly touching his cap. “Where did you come from?”

“Nashville,” I replied.

“Then fill out this blank, please,” he said, handling me the book and a pencil. I did so, and then begged a sample sheet, which is reproduced as I filled one out:


What is your name? Nellie Bly.


In what State, county and town do you reside?……………………

In what place or places have you resided in the past fifteen days? New York City, Herkimer, Albany, N. Y. Painesville, Fremont, O. Nashville, Tenn.

To what point are you going? Washington, D.C.

Has your baggage been disinfected? No.

Will you stop in Chattanooga? No.

I solemnly swear that the answers to the above questions are true and correct, so help me God.


“What made the girls so vexed?” I asked the officer, referring to the party he had just left.

“Kicked on telling their age,” he said with a grin, as he wrote on the back of the page a description of my color of hair, eyes, dress, hat, cloak, &c. “That one word ‘age’ causes me more trouble than a hungry mosquito on a hot night. The women try every persuasion to escape, but I just turn up the page and read this”

Quarantine Officer’s Blank.

Issued by authority of

Chattanooga Board of Heath.

Quarantine Ordinance of the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Any person refusing to answer these questions, or making nature answers, for refusing to subscribe the oath attached, is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined not less than $5 nor more than $100, and forbidden to enter the city, or remain therein, and may also be imprisoned for not longer than thirty days.

“I struck a women with nice glasses and curls the other day,” he continued, “and she was a heap worse to whip than a Yankee soldier. I suspected that she was a back number, and she refused to state her age. I just threatened to have her imprisoned and then she wrote it, but she raved at me until I left the car, and they say that she cried all the way to Chattanooga about the ‘outrage perpetrated on a respectable Southern women.’”

(Source: Undercover Reporting,